Promise Ring Meanings – History and Traditions

Promise Ring Meanings – History and Traditions

A little bit of history ….

Elizabethan Betrothal Ceremony c1640

Promise Rings have a long history. The one basic principle of a Promise Ring is that it has always been been a sign of commitment, usually – but not always – associated with betrothal and marriage. In this context, Promise Rings (or Betrothal Rings) have been around in one form or another for many hundreds of years – as long as there have been betrothals. Betrothals are mentioned in the bible and go back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and even earlier. 


For many years the Promise Ring was a formal, outward symbol of a commitment to marriage from one family to another. Prior to recent times, arranged marriages were the norm. Marriage was one way for a family to increase its wealth and standing. Marriages were used to formalize alliances between families – to secure borders and to extend a family’s influence and power.

Betrothal Rings (Promise Rings) played a key role in formalizing a marriage agreement.  

In Western society, the 18th and 19th centuries saw arranged marriages becoming less common; the desires of the individuals themselves started to be taken into account. Engagement Rings started to replace Promise Rings as a symbol of commitment and the popularity of promise rings declined steadily. However, arranged marriages still remained common in other parts of the world …. and still do today.

Teenagers - 1950s

It was in the USA, in the 1950s and 1960s, that Promise Rings started to reappear. Boys started to adopt the practice of giving their girlfriends a ring, a fraternity pin or some other emblem that meant there was a commitment to date each other and no-one else started to. It was during this time that the term “promise ring” was adopted. Prior to this, promise rings had really be known as Betrothal Rings.

One Heart Ring Heart Amethyst Sterling Silver Ring - promise rings

Modern day Promise rings are not betrothal or engagement rings:

Whilst it is interesting to make comparisons between historical betrothals, Betrothal Rings and current day Promise Rings, there are significant differences – the main one being that, historically, betrothals were primarily about women as property.  A Betrothal was commonly a marriage agreement made in the interests of the family, designed to safeguard property, increase power and wealth, strengthen bonds between families and for other strategic reasons.

Historically (and particularly) in royal and wealthy families, many betrothals occurred when the couple were only children, as strategic planning for the future. These betrothals and marriages were not about love and feelings but were simply a business transaction between families.   For this reason a betrothal was more like a modern day engagement, where a fixed agreement to marry had been made.

Promise Rings evolved from being Betrothal Rings into symbols of love of one individual for another. 


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